The Winter's Tale

The Winter's Tale, by William Shakespeare, was directed by Edward Langley and Jan Rae and was performed in the Gardens of Dulwich Picture Gallery in July 2010.

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Review by Stefan Nowak

Open-air productions are usually plagued by a combination of weather and environment. However this year the sun shone gloriously and traffic and plane noise were at a minimum. Even the competing Founder's Day at the College held off their fireworks until just after the end of Saturday night's performance. The first half was dominated by powerful and emotional performances by Leontes and Hermione (Richard Thomson and Sarah Fong). Their relationship begins as a loving couple with Hermione heavily pregnant, and Leontes, devoted father, happily playing with their son, Mamillus (Chloe Penfold). This soon descends into rage fuelled by insane jealousy as Leontes accuses his wife of having an affair with Polixenes (Ian Jones). The King's sudden transition from loving husband and devoted father to an irrational tyrant is superbly handled by Richard Thomson, equally matched by Sarah's emotional response, whose grief is echoed by her lady-in-waiting, Emilia, a well-judged performance by Claire McDonald.

Leontes orders Camillo (Kevin Smith) to kill Polixenes but instead he helps him escape back to Bohemia. As Leontes commits his wife to prison, where she gives birth to her daughter, she is supported by Paulina (Rebecca Dallaway) who stands up to the king despite the reluctance of her husband, Antigonus (Wilf Taylor), to go against Leontes. In another dramatically emotional scene dominated by Rebecca Dallaway's stunning performance, they convince the king to spare the life of the baby and Antigonus agrees to take it away, abandoning it to its own devices. The queen is put to trial and once again Sarah Fong excels in her pleas for innocence, both for herself and Camillo, but Leontes is not convinced. She feels she has nothing to live for and pleads to Apollo for justice. The priestess, Dionne (a suitably regal performance by Bridget Flaherty), returns from consulting the oracle and proclaims everyone's innocence and the king a tyrant. However, the king and queen's son, having been taken ill, has died and the queen herself also dies of grief for the loss of both her children. Paulina rails against Leontes, who is now totally distraught, and they are eventually reconciled.

Meanwhile Antigonus, aided by the mariner (Ted Powell), has abandoned the baby but left her with gold and a box containing evidence of her origins. She is subsequently found by the Old Shepherdess (Lydia Dicks) and her son, Clown (Steve Borrie). However, before he can return to his ship, Antigonus is eaten by a bear, described in a lovely comic scene by Clown although we did not see the most famous Shakespearian stage direction – 'Exeunt pursued by a bear' – although I understand that if you were at the Saturday matinee performance, a large teddy bear (Paul Sykes) did appear, much to the delight of the children in the audience and the surprise of the cast!Harp music, beautifully played by Lucy Fletcher, introduces Act Two where Emilia (Claire McDonald) and Frances (Nicky Cole) pick up the story 16 years later. The king's daughter, now called Perdita (charmingly played by Georgina Morton), has been raised by the shepherdess and her son, who thanks to her gold, are now wealthy. Clown is duly robbed by the wandering rogue, Autolycus (a wonderfully witty performance by Ben McCloughlin), having feigned an injury. Polixenes' son, Florizel (Tom Collins) has fallen for the beautiful Perdita and attends a party with her. This scene has many lovely moments as the shepherdesses, Mopsa and Dorcas (Louise Norman and Jacqueline Rootes) fight for the love of Clown, who buys a ballad from Autolycus for them. The singing and dancing (choreographed by Linnemore Jantjes) which then ensues is delightfully performed by the supporting cast.Polixenes has heard of his son's enchantment with Perdita from Camillo so they also attend the party disguised as monks with distinctly dodgy beards! Ian Jones and Kevin Smith give a beautifully timed comic performance and eventually reveal themselves to the loving couple. Polixenes berates his son for falling in love with a shepherdess's daughter and the couple want to run away to escape his wrath. Camillo suggests they go to Sicilia and present themselves to Leontes. He gets Autolycus to swap clothes with Florizel so they can flee in disguise. Meanwhile Clown tries to persuade his mother to tell all about Perdita to the king. However, Autolycus, posing as a courtier, convinces them that they would be punished if they did and tricks them out of their gold. Back in Bohemia, King Leontes is still worried about the oracles prophecy that he will not have an heir until his lost child is found. He welcomes Florizel and Perdita warmly until Archidamus (Ted Powell) tells him that Florizel has run way from his father with a shepherdess's daughter, not a princess. Eventually all is revealed, in another aside by the gentlewomen, that Perdita is the king's daughter. Paulina then dramatically unveils, to gasps all round, a statue of Queen Hermoine that is uncannily lifelike even to extent of having aged since her death and indeed she does return to life in the kings embrace. This happy ending is augmented by Paulina firmly grasping Camillo then planting a vigorous kiss on his lips, much to his surprise! A wonderfully comic moment to end a play full of twists and turns, an emotional rollercoaster fuelled by exemplary performances and a superb production all round!